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Citrus Heights: grant funds helped sterilize 2300 cats in city

Updated March 16, 6:40 p.m.–
In an effort to help manage the area’s outdoor cat population, the City reported a total of 2,303 cats were spayed or neutered in Citrus Heights during a recent 29-month period — primarily aided by a grant from PetSmart Charities.

The free “Trap-Neuter-Return” program was implemented in September 2013, with funding from a $127,950 PetSmart grant that expired at the end of January this year, according to City Operations Manager Mary Poole. She said the grant allowed for residents to bring in feral, stray, or personal cats for free surgery and rabies vaccinations, in order to help reduce “nuisance issues” associated with unaltered cats.

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Poole called the program a “great success” and said she’s hopeful additional funds can be secured in the future. She said the grant was initially set up as a two-year program, but a five-month extension was given due to “very high demand,” and grant funds still being left over.

Poole said unaltered cats in the city has led to “all kinds of problems,” including spraying, “caterwauling,” and gardens being used for litter boxes. She said altering cats helps limit the impact and reduce overpopulation in animal shelters, which she said is “an incredibly expensive way to handle cats.”

Asked how much impact the grant made on reducing nuisance calls, Poole said there’s still a high number of reports related to cats.

“We still have a lot of areas where we get reports about feral cat colonies where cats have not been altered,” said Poole. “They’re not as frequent as they used to be, but they’re still there, and our hope is to obtain future grant funding so we have options for these areas.”

How the program worked

According to PetSmart Charities’ website, the nonprofit offers spay and neuter grants to communities around the United States to help manage free-roaming cat populations and reduce the need for euthanizing animals.

To take part in the program, local residents needed to apply for a sterilization voucher online from the Sacramento Area Animal Coalition or River City Cat Rescue, bring the cat in to a local veterinary hospital for surgery and vaccination, and then return the cat to the same area it was trapped in. Feral cats also had the tip of their ear removed while under anesthesia to visually indicate they had been sterilized.

A donation of cages from Unleashed by Petco enabled the City to provide rental traps for free, with a $50 refundable deposit. Donations of time, support, and discounted vet fees, were also provided by All About Pets, according to Poole.

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Grant funding allowed for up to $22,000 to cover the cost of an animal services officer to help with trapping, but Poole said those funds were “essentially eaten up just over the first year,” and the City covered the cost for the remainder of the program. The remaining grant funds paid for vet costs associated with alterations and vaccinations.

Asked for comment at the start of the program in 2014, resident Margaret Cleek told The Sentinel she favored the “Trap-Neuter-Return” approach as the best way to humanely manage and stabilize outdoor cat populations. Cleek said she believes euthanizing cats can lead to a vacuum in the feline population of an area, which can then attract more cats that aren’t spayed or neutered, and actually create more of a problem.

While the ethics of sterilizing versus euthanizing feral cats are debated, Poole said from a statistics standpoint the euthanize approach to nuisance cats “didn’t do anything to decrease the population.”

What’s next

Although free sterilizations are no longer offered through the PetSmart grant, Sacramento and Auburn-based Animal Spay and Neuter Clinics are now offering free cat sterilization for all cats in Sacramento County. For more information, see:

*Note: A prior version of this story reported a higher number of cats sterilized, based on a figure the City’s General Services Department says it mistakenly provided. 2,303 cats is the correct number.

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